Before and after: front yard edging

I love before and after photos, even of the most mundane projects. These photos show the driveway and foundation planting edging I moved this weekend. It may not look like much, but 12-18 hours of digging sod by hand, grubbing weeds, chasing down dead TV cables cut by the previous owners (grrr), and meticulously arranging heavy concrete edging blocks has done a number on my back.

before and after edging 2I opted to reuse the scalloped concrete edgers because they are in every yard in the neighborhood. Given my druthers I’d be using something fancier but A) I’m broooooooke and B) fancy things are not at all in keeping with the style of my home or those around it. My neighborhood isn’t exactly run-down but neither is it the kind of place where vinyl fencing or stone veneers fit in.

before and after edging 3I moved the edging along the driveway (AGAIN) because the previous edging was getting run over by trucks and heavy equipment alike, there being several tons more machinery in our drive than anyone ever intended. I have ceded another 18 inches of the yard to the driveway and firmly stated (no less than five times) that this is the last border treaty I am willing to broker and that any more incursions into my yard will be met with force.

before and after edging 1I moved the edging along the foundation bed for several reasons. The narrowness of the bed meant that only small perennials could be grown in it, which cannot be seen from the road. A deeper bed allows me to go crazy on install more shrubs, which will improve the curb appeal since they will be visible from the street. Also, the existing edging was not even close to straight and meandered like a snake. The new edging cuts a straight line, perfectly parallel to the house. If I have done my math correctly the second set of stairs I am going to install on the porch will fall into line, as well.

I carefully hand-pulled all the weeds around the base of our meter and disconnected the cut cables after conferring with the handyman across the street. I will never understand why the previous owners physically cut all the phone and TV wires and cables that used to feed into the house – and I am especially stymied to discover that it happened more than once! When Lee and I were kneeling in my freshly dug bed playing NCIS over the remains of previous utilities we saw that new TV cable had been run three times to replace previously snipped wires. These cables were not accidentally severed by a shovel – they were cleanly severed at the junction box on the pole or where they should have entered the house.

before and after edging 4Before digging out this extension I contacted our local electrical utility to get their OK. I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t going to violate any rules (or just be generally bothersome) with my crazy plan. That plan is to build a tiny little pergola-style arch over the meter pole and grow a pretty vine over it – something fairly polite like runner beans or clematis, not something beefy and destructive like wisteria. They said that they didn’t care what I did to the top or sides as long as they had 36 inches of clearance at the front in which to read the meter and access the boxes (which are hinged at the top and not the sides). I am assuming that the same applies to the phone and internet boxes on the back (which is generous because they actually require much less access space).

— Amanda

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A little gardening between rainstorms

Because the big front bed is so big it still has some empty areas (even taking into account the eventual mature size of the existing material) and so does the bed around the house now, because I recently stormed around yanking out stuff that didn’t live up to my expectations. (That is, the smelly, messy, floppy pink Verbascums, and the lanky, weedy-looking, also floppy Rudbeckia hirta.) So the day before yesterday I hit The Plant Farm* when all the stars aligned to make it the perfect day to shop for plants:

  1. It was pouring down rain. Other than one couple who didn’t stray from the cover of the cabana, I was the only non-employee present.
  2. It is September, when Plant Bucks are redeemable on all plant material, not just trees and shrubs.
  3. It was Plant Buck Amnesty Week, when you can use plant bucks from any nursery — and expired ones, too.
  4. The 50% table was laden with goodies that were rootbound, unpopular, or recently pruned back hard.

I had some Bucks from previous trips this year, and I also discovered a fistful of Bucks from 2004. Also, I had just purchased a hooded raincoat.

Muahahaha!

And that is how I scored almost $70 worth of plant material for just over $25 dollars.

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2 Echinacea ‘Magnus’, 1 Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’, 1 Corepsis ‘Elfin Gold’, 1 Corepsis ‘Rum Punch’, 1 Artemesia ‘Silver King’, 1 tricolor sage, 2 Sedum cauticola, 1 Oregano ‘Kent Beauty’, and 2 ‘Bugundy Glow’ bugleweed.

Today was supposed to be the only clear day for some time so as soon as I was sufficiently caffeinated I hustled on out there and stuck that stuff in the ground.

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I put the tender green ‘Kent Beauty’ oregano alongside the new stairs in the big front bed between an ‘October Daphne’ sedum (currently a wild hot pink) and a Heuchera ‘Creme Brulee’ (currently a winey-bronzey color).

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I divided both the rootbound bugleweeds and planted them randomly around the edges of the bid front bed. This one ended up between another ‘October Daphne’, a lady’s mantle, and a ‘Bonfire’ euphorbia. At the top of the frame you can see the tricolor sage.

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Last night’s rain collected in the top of one of my ‘Melrose’ apples.

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St. Francis is becoming obscured by the profusion of ‘Autumn Joy’ sedums by the front porch.

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New growth on my recently moved pink coralberry beaded with rain.

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My ‘Pink Champagne’ smokebush is so happy with my endless toil in the front bed that it has doubled in size over the summer!

— Amanda

*[Note from the future (03/19/15): My second-ever employer and perennially (heh) my favorite garden center to patronize, the Plant Farm sadly closed its doors permanently not long after this post was written. The visit I write of in this post turned out to be my last. The Plant Farm was a very popular local business and appeared to be very profitable. To date, no reason has been given for the closure.]

What a tool!

(Hey, it was that or a hoe joke.)

I have to shamelessly plug a product today because it’s the best damn garden tool I’ve gotten my grubby mitts on in a long time.4d2d2-140831_001

This bad boy. I usually hear these called stirrup hoes, but the sticker on mine called it an “action hoe” (Oh . . . the jokes are coming out my ears – this is so painful!) and some folks call them hula hoes. Whatever. It’s an awesome hoe is what it is.

The stirrup is loosely attached at the ferrule so it wiggles a little. Both front and back edges of the stirrup are sharpened. This means no more whacking away as most people unfortunately do with standard-issue draw hoes (which, for weeding, should actually be used with the head as parallel to the ground as possible). Instead, you shuffle the stirrup back and forth just under the soil’s surface and it effortlessly slices through the weeds. The handle is nice and long so that you don’t have to bend (and so I can easily reach the center of my gargantuan front bed from the edges). I can also get under the drooping branches of my larger shrubs without having to lift the branches and crawl under and hand pick. Not only does it cleanly slice through my tougher weeds – like the wisteria that keeps trying to return from the dead, or the suckers my quince throws off, both of which are very woody – it also clears out all those pesky little tiny baby weed sprouts that are almost too goddamn tiny to pluck by hand.

Thanks to Matt’s foresight in getting me this hoe for Christmas I can now rid the whole 1000+ square foot front bed of weeds in 10 minutes without breaking a sweat.

— Amanda

Stairway to heaven?

One item on the unbelievably long list of steps to revamp the front yard was “stairs through front bed”. Before the front bed was brought back under cultivation folks tramped willy-nilly through it, oblivious to the fact that expensive shrubs and perennials slumbered under the knee-high grass and weeds. No amount of shrieking at the menfolk could stop them. Now I have proper stairs: a clearly delineated path through the ever-more-beautiful garden that has been transformed from the bane of my life to my pride and joy. Anybody tries to blaze their own trail now gets pummeled with whatever I have handy — firewood, BB gun, shovel, rolling pin. Be ye warned!

On Saturday night I laid out the path from the front door through the yard and bed. I used the really-long-measuring-tape-and-knotted-string trick for folks who shy away from the Pythagorean theorem to ensure that my very long rectangle was both “square” (that is, had four 90-degree corners) and perpendicular to the house. Overhead the sun was going down rather spectacularly.

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Cue the choir.

Yesterday I got the treads carved out, the scrap wood 4 x 4 risers cut and placed, and the landscape fabric pinned down. By that time it was past noon and well over 80 degrees. I wanted desperately to be done but I couldn’t manage it. I went inside, drank 2 quarts of instant lemonade, consumed an entire honeydew melon, and took a 2 hour nap.

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This morning I finished the project. I installed little side blocks to keep the gently mounded soil on either side of the treads from falling back in, redistributed all the displaced soil, planted the four new plants I had been holding back because I wanted them near these stairs, and filled the treads with bark mulch.6e5b5-dscf5092

Eventually the front yard will be stripped of grass and a grid of raised beds will go down in its place. Open ground will be covered with more landscaping fabric and wood chips. I opted for wood chips because as nice as pea gravel and decomposed granite look in gardening magazines they can be expensive, they are heavy, and they travel (pea gravel especially refuses to stay put). Bark mulch and wood chips are gloriously free and abundant when one is married to a logger and lives next door to a would-be arborist. They don’t pack as well as, say, crushed rock, but they do eventually compress. They need replacing and topping off, but, again: free and plentiful. Also, they retain moisture and are soft and quiet to walk on. I passed on the idea of pavers and/or bricks because I think the garden should be in keeping with the style of the house. My house is very plain and simple. A formal garden, no matter how well designed and maintained, would be terribly at odds with my plain Jane home. But I think a potager, softened at the edges with a cottagey sort of garden would be just right.

— Amanda

Weird weeds and other garden updates

The weather has been a double-edged sword lately: on the one hand the alternating (unbearable) heat and (torrential) rain have made my garden go apeshit, but on the other hand it is miserable weather for working in the yard – always either disgustingly muggy or actively pouring. If the forecast holds, though, I should be able to get back out there this weekend and mow and weed and whatnot.

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It’s been almost exactly a month since the big front bed got its deep topdressing of topsoil. (Read about that adventure here.) The weeds are finally poking through. Mostly (and not surprisingly) it’s grass and ferns that are busting clods, but I also have two of these. Know what it is? A RADISH. Seriously. I’m not mad (and I’m totally going to eat them) but . . . WTF?

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My super-cool new plant find, Digiplexus “Illumination Flame’ (a cross between a foxglove and its lesser-known cousin Isoplexis) is blooming. There’s a cinnamon-colored heuchera at its feet for some analogous color. (Holy crap, Mrs. Schatz, I actually retained some of that color theory from art class!)

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My bold decision to rid the yard of roses (see here) is paying off. I have seen not one teeny weeny spot on the leaves of our apple trees. But we do have something unusual: apples! About a dozen on each tree. About damn time.

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We planted a peach tree last year, intending to espalier it. We’ve never gotten around to it because “having the extra money for lumber and hardware” and “Matt having some free time to take me to the lumberyard” have not favorably aligned. In the meantime the little tree seems perfectly happy. In fact, it’s actually producing! There are about five little bitty fuzzy wuzzy baby peaches on the tree. This one, the biggest, is only about the size of a walnut. Looooook at it. LOOK AT IT. Isn’t it friggin’ adorable? It’s like a little hamster butt or something.

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The herb garden is also running amok. L to R (and then up and over and L to R some more) I have thyme, basil, tarragon, oregano, parsley, rosemary, dill, marjoram, sage, and chives. In the other half (not pictured) the sweet woodruff is growing exponentially and my frost-damaged lavender is making a late comeback. (The tisane herbs, spearmint and lemon balm, are prepping for yard domination.) This is my favorite part of the garden, you may be surprised to learn. Plain as it is, I think it’s just as pretty as anything ornamental out front, and when its growing I get to put fresh herbs in breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which makes every damn thing taste gourmet.

— Amanda

I can die now

In the spring of 2006, when Matt first drove me past the house I am now sitting in, my first thought (honestly) was “Holy crap! Look at the size of that garden bed!” Between the roadside parking strip and the level front lawn was a sloped, gently curved, absolutely huuuuuge bed edged in large river rocks. The plants in it (urine-scented conical conifers, weedy Sweet Williams, and two unkempt rhododendrons) were a bust. But the bed was rife with potential. 506 square feet – more than half the square footage of the house itself!

With the help of friends, I yanked out all the unhappy, ugly little euonymous along the driveway and shoveled out yards and yards and yards of dyed-red pine chips from the beds against the house. (The very thought of which makes my hands itch. Man, those things gave you slivers when you looked at them wrong!) And I even managed, eventually, to rip out almost all of the thick black visqueen that the previous owners had lined the front bed with. I guess they thought it was landscape fabric. But it starved most of what they had planted and forced the hardier survivors to send roots out on top of the plastic, under the 6″ deep mulch layer. It was a disaster all around.

And until this spring I never did manage to get the bid front bed under control. There were weddings, surgeries, employment nightmares . . . and the project just got more and more daunting as the weeds grew thicker, taller, and more aggressive.

This year I was out of excuses and not in the mood to make any more. My surgery was in 2007. I quit smoking 3 or 4 years ago. I have no job outside the home. I have no good reason not to weed that damn flowerbed.

So I did.

Matt helped . . . in his way. He used the front bed as a testing ground for Candy, his “new” old backhoe.

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Candy’s little bucket scooped through 6 years of neglect like butter.

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On the left: the results of Matt’s “weeding” with Candy. On the right: the results of my hand, hoe, and shovel weeding.

Every day that it wasn’t raining and I wasn’t in the woods with Matt (save one day to visit with my folks) I was out there from breakfast to lunch – and often, later – shoveling, hoeing, pruning, and yanking. My joints feel like they’re full of hot rust. My sciatica makes my eyes pop out of my head every time I bend over. I have blisters on my pinkie fingers, even. But I’m so happy.

Yesterday morning I officially pulled the very last weed. Matt and I met in town for lunch and it was all I could talk about. He was hauling gravel and sand all day so he said that, since it was literally on the way home, he might swing by the pit and get me a load of screened fill to level off the big depressions where the weird scallops used to be. He did – but what he showed up with was actually some very nice topsoil. As soon as I started spreading that stuff people started coming out of their houses to watch. (And not just because I’m a dab hand with a shovel.) People slowed down as they drove by, and rolled down their windows to call out “It looks beautiful!”

To my credit, I replied generously with “Thank you!” and “It sure does!” instead of my internal dialogue of “Suck it, bitches! My garden kicks ass!”

And now, what you have so patiently waited for: the pictures.

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BEFORE: 2006, just after we moved in.

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AFTER: Yesterday morning.

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AFTER THAT: This morning, with all the lovely topsoil spread.

And now, what I have so patiently waited for: my first trip to The Plant Farm to start filling in all the empty space I’ve created!

— Amanda

A very small update from a very sore blogger

Nothing of great interest going on here lately. Nothing blog-worthy, at least. But I do have one (sad) announcement:

  • Chesty, the Rhode Island Red layer with the chronic crop problems, took a sudden turn for the worse this weekend and we put her out of her misery on Sunday morning.

and one (exciting) teaser:

  • There is a chance in hell that, after 8 years in this house I may finally get the massive front flowerbed cleared. Matt’s new toy (a rusty old backhoe named Candy) has been a big help in this. But still, I’ve put in a solid week of work and I’m only halfway done. But when I am – and more to the point, when I get to start replanting – it’s going to be spectacular.

That is all.

— Amanda

P.S. Sore because of the week in the flowerbed and also because of the three day weekend in the woods with Matt making wooden sacrifices to a hungry and demanding industrial brush chipper.